June 3, 2014 3 Comments
A LITTLE ABOUT E-BIKES
E-bikes are kind of the hot new emerging technology of the bike world. They first emerged as a kind of in-between, living in the space between bicycle and motorscooter, but have since evolved into some pretty exciting vehicles in their own right. Here in the US, e-bikes are generally restricted by law to a max assisted speed of 20mph.
Not to be confused with electronic drivetrains, such as Di2 and EPS, which only use electronics to shift gears, e-bikes actually incorporate a propulsion motor into the hub of the wheel, and use an electrical motor to assist the rider while pedaling. The bikes usually do have a throttle mode to help you get things going, but generally the motor only assists you in the pedaling, it doesn’t do all the work for you. This makes e-bikes ideal for occasional riders, urban commuters, or those who don’t necessarily want a car, but want something more efficient than a standard bicycles for transportation.
I had a chance to test out the Currie E3 IZIP Path+ e-bike during bike to work week, and definitely put the bike through its paces, and my coworker did the same with the Currie IZIP E3 Zuma e-bike. These e-bikes definitely attracted a few looks from passers-by while we rode along at cruising speed, but read on below to find out how our test-rides worked out.
Currie E3 IZIP Path+ e-bike is basically a standard city-style bike with a battery pack, electronics package and rear motor hub wheel. It has an 8-speed Shimano derailleur in the rear, which allows you to select how hard you want to pedal. Also upfront on the handlebars are a digital display that can display speed, distance traveled, battery charge remaining, and more. On the left hand, instead a front derailleur shifter, there is a digital control unit that lets you select the level of pedal assist, switch through the information screens, and turn the system on and off.
The bike comes with an included rear rack with an integrated battery pack. It does weigh a fair amount—a bit over 50 pounds, depending on the size (our bike scale did actually go up that high, surprisingly), almost all of it in the battery and motor. Because of the weight, we found it necessary to keep the pedal assist on pretty much all the time.
The Currie IZIP E3 Zuma e-bike featured more of a beach cruiser style frame design, with an upright riding position and a battery integrated into the seat tube of the bike (so you barely even notice that it’s there). The E3 Zuma uses Currie’s 500 watt rear hub motor, mated to a Shimano 7-speed rear derailleur and a simple LED control unit mounted to the handlebar (which allows you to select the level of assist that you would like, along with pedal-assist or throttle-control mode).
Maxxis 26×2.3″ tires provided a comfortable ride while also giving the versatility to be able to tackle some light gravel or packed dirt paths. The swept-back handlebars will give you a nice and comfortable upright riding position and the Avid BB5 mechanical disc brakes let us easily control speed.
While not really designed for the low-density rural area I live in, riding the Path+ e-bike was probably the most fun I’ve had on a bike in a long time. The Path+ e-bike is not your everyday townie bike, that’s for sure, and it takes some getting used to. But once I got the hang of riding it, I came to love to feeling of the gentle assist nudge from the rear wheel with every pedal stroke. It made running errands and getting places by bike way easier. The joke at my house is that we’re at least 20 minutes from anywhere—including work. The commute, the primary route I took the bike on, is about 12 miles each way and includes a long, grinding climb that is locally notoriously difficult even on a road bike.
The Path+ e-bike definitely made the commute much easier, and while I do love my commute, the Path+ e-bike introduced a level of enjoyment I haven’t felt since I moved to NC from Chicago years ago. On the mornings I rode the bike to work, instead of wearing my usual lycra, I just reached for the jeans and t-shirt I wear at work. It was a weird feeling to ride a bike in street clothes—something I admit I haven’t done in a long, long time—years even, but I really enjoyed it. I don’t think I broke a sweat at all, and even enjoyed a nice cup of coffee while riding. I was definitely still pedaling, but the motor took almost all of the strain out of it, so I arrived at work feeling refreshed instead of like I’d had a good workout. Even fully loaded with groceries, panniers, and everything needed to ride to work, the Path+ e-bike handled it all, and made even tough grocery runs feel fun, novel, and enjoyable.
I know that most people buy bikes because they want to work out, but that’s not really what the e-bikes were designed for. E-bikes are designed as a transportation solution for urban-dwellers and others who don’t feel they need- or want- a car to go everywhere. On these counts, it hits all the marks.
On a personal note: My wife and I are planning on moving into Chapel Hill proper (where the Performance offices are located) at the end of this year, and we kind of regret that we didn’t find the Path+ e-bike sooner. We bought a second car in October of last year to replace our college-era hoopty. Already having an SUV, we wanted a smaller, more efficient car for around-town and local trips. But after our test-week on the e-bike we both agreed that we may have reconsidered if we’d had a chance to try out the e-bike sooner—especially in light of our impending move. The Path+ e-bike would have easily solved many of the issues we were looking to address with a second car: reliable, powered transportation; an easy, fuel efficient around-town vehicle; and a fast way for my wife to get to work.
My coworker had a similar experience while test-riding the E3 Zuma e-bike – he used it every day to commute to work over a 5 mile mixed urban/rural route with a few tough hills, and he was able to tackle it with no problems in his regular work clothes. In fact he even shaved time off of his commute using the E3 Zuma e-bike on full pedal-assist mode, with much less perceived effort than his normal cyclocross commuter rig. He also left the bike in max-assist mode all the time – and it was remarkable how big a difference it made while climbing hills. Even when it didn’t feel that fast, once we looked at ride data later we could see that the motor-assist helped him keep a consistently high speed over tough climbs in town.
Ah yes, what you’re all really wondering about. How long does the battery last? Good question. Like a car, it’s really going to depend on where you’re riding it and how you ride it. According to Currie, the Path+ e-bike should have gotten about 40 miles per charge. If you leave it on throttle mode and treat it like a scooter, you’re going to get less battery life. If you ride it with minimal pedal assist, you’ll get probably more than the advertised battery life. Because of the distance and terrain I had to take the Path+ e-bike over to get to work, I got more like 25 miles per charge. It was enough to get me to work and home again, but I had to recharge it every night. I also left it in max pedal assist, which probably didn’t help battery life either.
My coworker, who tested an E3 Zuma e-bike, actually got more than the 40 miles per charge—but he used his for more urban-style riding and rode it over shorter distances.
For most people, I don’t think battery life is going to be much of an issue. The on-board computer will give you plenty of warning that your battery is running low, just like your cell phone. If you just remember to charge it regularly, you won’t have any problems.
E-bikes are definitely a fun, pragmatic machines, and something I find myself really wanting. Normally when I express a desire for a new bike, it leads to eye-rolling and a family meeting, but on the Path+ e-bike my wife and I were much more in agreement. We both think e-bike would have been (when compared with a car) a very affordable, very practical solution to some of our transportation needs.
E-bikes are great for anyone in an urban area who wants a way to get around quickly, easily, and want to expand the capabilities of a normal bicycle (especially in a hilly area). But it’s also ideal for people who don’t ride as often, or want a bike that’s more about having fun and relaxing than pushing themselves to the limit.